With connotations of overindulgence and greed, Bon Viveur I is a French term to describe somebody who enjoys the good things in life. Painted at the height of the global recession in 2008, Edward Kay's portrait of a middle-aged, well-dressed man, therefore seems to be a satirical critique of the greed of the upper class. Replacing the nose of the sitter with a phallus, this traditionally painted portrait draws attention to the subject's flaws and failings, hinting at unchecked and animalistic urges. In this regard the work follows in the tradition of George Grosz's art of the 1920s, critiquing society by using the grotesque to confront and shock the viewer. However, by using sexual imagery so explicitly, Kay takes his critique further, eschewing the traditional presentation of the glutton as a pig, he instead refers to modern slang and insults.
This reflection of earlier artistic criticism is typical of Edward Kay's work. Kay is known for his ability to skillfully recreate traditional styles whilst merging them with modern imagery or meaning. Rich in style, Bon Viveur I is lavishly painted, mimicking the manner in which the wealthy have typically presented themselves in art throughout the centuries. The intensity and power of the image is increased through the contrast of this art historical tradition and the modernity of his critical expression, making the perversity more explicit.
However, the criticisms inherent in the grotesque elements of the work appear to reveal the artist's seeking to invoke a change within his audience. Kay himself has described the work as almost a self-portrait, stating that 'it is about concentrating, holding your breath and really directing your energies towards changing yourself' (E. Kay in conversation with Ana Finel Honigman, Saatchi Online, 12th March 2008, reproduced at http://magazine.saatchionline.com/culture/reports-from/los-angeles-repo rts-from/edward_kay_in_conversation_wit).